Blight blech!

Rosa 'All Ablaze' blazes cherry red in Burke Brothers' Tuscany exhibit, accenting classic Italian elements with bright flowers. (Ron Tarver / Staff photographer)

Here's what late blight looks like, but don't panic. Other diseases bear a maddening resemblance to the scary fungus that's been attacking tomatoes and potatoes this year earlier and more broadly than at any other time in recent memory. Prolonged cool temperatures and a lot of rain in spring provided ideal conditions for late blight, which - thanks to our recent rainy streak - continues to spread through home gardens and organic farms, according to several cooperative extension agents and vegetable pathologists in Pennsylvania and New Jersey that I've been checking in with. (Non-organic growers have been spraying preventatively and are doing OK.) Most tomato-growing gardeners in my universe are pretty paranoid, and with good reason. The disease is fatal to the plants and spreads on wind and rain for 30 to 40 miles at a stretch. Even if you had beautiful seedlings, are growing heirlooms, started your plants from seed or bought them at a big box, you could be vulnerable. I've already destroyed one plant. It looked horrible. But nothing seems to be happening with my other tomatoes, beyond some yellowing leaves, which - to an extent - is normal for this time of year. I think my newly departed tomato plant may have had Septoria leaf spot or one of the other leaf spots going around this soggy summer. Who knows? This photo was taken Monday at the organic tomato farm in Chester County that is the subject of my story on Friday, Aug. 7. The farmer appears to be staying on top of things by spraying organic copper fungicide and removing all damaged foliage, and the experts say he may beat the blight - or at least prolong the inevitable. I wish him luck. Meanwhile, I'm obsessing over my tomatoes, which are - knock on wood - looking healthy and starting to ripen. May we all stay blight-free.